I chuckle to myself whenever I read the conversation Jesus had with people in the crowd who are following him in John 6:24-35. It reminds me of some discussions I’ve had in the past with friends from Queensland or New South Wales about football. We were using the same words, but we meant very different things. When I said ‘football’ I was thinking of Australian Rules or AFL. When they said ‘football’ they were meaning Rugby League or Union.
We were using the same language, but were talking past each other because we understood the words in different ways.
That’s what seems to be happening throughout John 6. Jesus had just fed 5000 men, plus women and children. The crowds were pursuing Jesus because they wanted him to keep providing them with free bread. Who can blame them? Imagine how much easier life would be if you had an endless supply of free bread appear on your doorstep each morning!
While they are looking for someone to feed their stomachs, Jesus was talking about providing them, and us, with something to satisfy a much deeper hunger. Jesus wanted to give us something that will feed our hungry hearts and souls, not just our stomachs.
We all have hearts that are hungry for something. For example, I have come across a few authors who say that every person is looking for answers to three fundamental questions: Who am I? Where do I fit? What am I here for? These questions of identity, belonging and purpose can be thought of as hungers we have. We can also be hungry for things like acceptance, self-worth, peace, rest, hope, and the list goes on.
When we try to satisfy these deeper hungers in ways that give us short-term relief, do they ever really satisfy? Our consumer culture offers us temporary solutions that help to distract us from our deeper hungers, but never fulfil them. We can do something similar in the church when we try our best to keep busy, or consume a particular style of worship, or engage in other activities that look nice and ‘Christian’ from the outside but which end up distracting us from our hunger rather than really satisfying it.
One thing that always stands out to me when I read John 6 is that when the people asked Jesus what God wanted then to be doing, Jesus replied that ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent’ (v29 NIV). In other words, the one thing God wants us to do is trust that Jesus is the one who can really satisfy our deeper hungers.
Jesus provides whatever our hearts and souls might be hungry for. If we’re hungry for identity, Jesus gives us a new identity as children of God whom he loves and with whom he is pleased. If we’re hungry to belong, Jesus gives it to us by making us members of his body, as brothers and sisters in God’s family, to live out our identity in Christ-centred community. If we’re hungry for purpose, Jesus calls us to participate in God’s mission by being disciples who make disciples and redeeming, restoring and renewing all of creation.
Whatever our deeper hunger might be, Jesus feeds us through the power of his Spirit through the gospel. Jesus accepts us just as we are as a free act of grace. Jesus gives us value by telling us we’re worth dying for by giving his life for us on the cross. Jesus gives us peace as he establishes a new relationship between us, our heavenly Father, and each other. Jesus gives us rest as he carries our burdens for us through prayer and the love we experience in Christian community. The resurrection of Jesus feeds us with hope as he promises that no matter how difficult or dark life might appear, he has given us a life that nothing, not even death, can overcome. No matter what our hearts and souls might be hungry for, Jesus can provide us with what we need.
One of the most important aspects of my work as a pastor is to help connect people’s hungers with what Jesus offers us as the Bread of Life. It begins by honestly asking ourselves what our hearts and souls are hungry for. This can really challenge us and might require some soul-searching because often we’re not too good at admitting our hunger and we can be very good at masking it with superficial attempts at filling the holes. However, when we are able to recognize and admit our deeper hungers, and when we are able to find that Jesus can and will satisfy those hungers, then we are able to share that bread with others.
We become like Jesus’ disciples who received the loaves and fish that Jesus had blessed and distributed them to the 5000 men plus women plus children who had come to hear him speak. When we have fed on the Bread of Life and found his goodness for ourselves, we have something good to share with others – the good news that Jesus offers us life to the full (John 10:10) here and now as we trust in him for everything to satisfy the deeper hungers of our hearts and souls. When we have found this Bread for ourselves, we can distribute it to others who are hungry for the goodness of God in their lives too.
What is your heart hungry for? What might be missing in your life that is keeping you from living the life to the full that Jesus promises? If you’re honest answer is nothing, that your relationship with Jesus is strong and you’re finding everything you need in him, then praise God that you have something good to offer the people around you who have hungry hearts. If, however, you have a hunger that you can’t fill, then let me know and let me help you find how Jesus can satisfy that deeper hunger. Or if you’re not connected with our church, look for a pastor, or a Christian sister or brother, who can help you. Search the Bible together. Listen to what God promises you in his word. Bring your hunger to God in prayer and keep pursuing the goodness of God in Jesus, the Bread of Life.
Because Jesus promises that when we trust in him for what our hearts and souls are hungry for, we’ll never be hungry again.